Through the warren of Cairo’s unplanned slums, mahraganat (festival) music blasts from tuk-tuks, cigarette stalls and cranked up cellphone speakers; auto-tuned voices mixing with heavy electronic rap beats. The sound quality is low and the lyrics are unmistakably vulgar. Egyptians can’t get enough.
Sha’abi music (literally translating to the music of the ‘poor’) is the new anthem of a new Egypt, recorded in bedrooms, mixed on shoddy laptops and capitalizing on the anger at the country’s economic and political situation. The young singers discuss pride, community, sex, and religion, seething about their frustrated expectations of a better life through irreverent, comical and sarcastic lyrics like “The people want phone credit! Just phone credit,” a play on the popular 18-day Tahrir Square uprising chant: “The people want the fall of the regime!”
Walking down the street, Oka, Ortega and Shehta blend easily into the crowds of the Egyptian youth that have spontaneously amassed for the last two years at city intersections—throwing stones at police, demanding a better life, chanting for freedom, against Hosni Mubarak, against president Mohammed Morsi.
The scrawny 24-year-olds are a far cry from the country’s previous state manufactured pop idols’ well-toned muscles and Adonis faces. Dressed in tight t-shirts and even tighter jeans, they combine American rap fashion with Egyptian street swagger. Two of them sport gelled hair, the other wears a massive hat that covers a ‘fro. But their band “Tamanya Fil Meya” [the eight percent] has become the new voice of Egypt.